[THE SCENE: A member of the media (who shall remain anonymous) talks about being involved in a recent car accident. Enter Greg Mattison]
“… You really didn’t go get an ambulance to take you to the hospital, did you? You really didn’t do that, did you? Come on.”
I hurt my back and neck.
“Come on ...”
I hurt my back and neck! It’s not my fault they rear-ended me.
“Come oooon. I mean, just think of the force these guys out on the field that get hit with. Sheez.”
Hey, they might get hit with the same force, but … they’re expecting it!
[Sigh.] “What do we have? What do we got?”
You had to be pleased with the effort last Saturday, huh.
“Yeah I was pleased with the effort. We’ve stressed so much about you’ve got to run to the football, you’ve got to play as hard as you can on each and every snap, and when they feel, I think, that you’re sincere in having a rotation and having guys go in that game and you’re in the Big Ten, you’re playing for all of it each game. It was good to see them buy into that and play extremely hard on every play. There were plays in that game that I was very pleased, when you looked out there, it was the way I perceived Michigan defense, where you had all 11 running as hard as they could to the football. Not nine, not eight. And then when a young man had played a number of plays, then the next guy goes in and he did the same thing. Still our technique, still we’ve got a long ways to go that way. We had a couple missed assignments that you can have, but all in all the effort was very pleasing.”
Talk about how Raymon Taylor has come along through playing.
“Well you got a young guy that got thrown into the fire and when that happens early, you know you don’t want to make mistakes. You play cautious sometimes. That’s a position where you have to just go. You just gotta go, and there’s going to be some bad things that you hope don’t happen but will happen to a corner, but the next play you just have to go and do the next thing. But I’ve seen him gain confidence. I’ve seen him understand the position better as far as, ‘Okay, this is me. I’m out here on an island. This is what I have to do.’ He’s gotten more physical as he feels comfortable with the position. Every game he’ll be tested. Every game we know that. He just keeps working to become as good as he can be. ”
MGoQuestion: You looked a lot more excited about Jake Ryan’s quarterback knockdown than Raymon Taylor’s pick-six. How come?
“Well I coach Jake, first of all. I’m with him every second. But no, I wasn’t more excited. It’s when you see guys -- anybody out there on your defense execute a defense like you see it being executed, that excites you as a coach. That was executed exactly like we had drawn it up. It was exactly -- he had to come exactly where he did when he did and at the speed he did or he would have gotten blocked. That excites you. I was not more excited about him. In fact I teased some of the guys when I watched the tape that some of our guys ran faster than the guys that should have run fast getting into that end zone, making sure that they understand that we want to be in that end zone. We want to celebrate together. We want to become a defense that every time you look there’s 11 guys. Like I said earlier, I think you saw that more, and that’s the way this defense has to play to be successful.”
What do you think of Jake Ryan’s development overall?
“Well I think he’s doing what you expect anybody that starts for a second year in a row. I mean, he started every game last year. He had a lot of unbelievable challenges as he went along last year. You could see him growing last year. The thing that’s pleasing, and it would be the same of every guy on our defense -- he gets hungrier every day. He becomes more of a student every day and when a player playing a position he does, which is kind of that hybrid where he’s out in space, he’s a secondary guy, he’s on the line playing the run, he’s on the defensive line rushing the passer, that guys has to be a student of the game. He can’t just say, ‘Okay, I know I’m supposed to do this and that’s it.’ He won’t play it well. Jake has been what we want all of our defensive guys to do, and that’s see how good you can be not just with physical ability.”
Brady calls him unorthodox. What does he mean by that?
“I don’t know. I don’t know. One thing with Jake is Jake doesn’t see anything ever that really bothers him. He’s going to go really hard and he’s going to get blocked sometimes and he’s not going to do the exact right thing sometimes, but he has the ability to come back on that next play and go as if it never happened. I think all that really bothers him is when he doesn’t do well. If he doesn’t do something right, he has tremendous pride. He’s a guy that we’re really counting on that each game you ask that same question. Each game that he has to be a guy that plays as good as he can play.”
Craig Roh is starting to call out the other team’s plays on the field. Is that part of his game that you wouldn’t be able to tell just watching on TV?
“That’s something we really really want our defense to do. We probably spend more time in film preparation giving our guys the extra hint of what’s going to happen that a lot of people do. That allows a guy that maybe isn’t the biggest, strongest guy, that maybe isn’t the most experienced guy, that if he uses tendencies, he can play better. As they get more comfortable in the scheme and they start feeling better about everybody, then that’s the next step that you take. Where we are as a defense right now is, okay, these are the guys that are going to be playing, and I understand what you’re asking me to do, now I can say, ‘Okay, now what’s going to help me do that?’ Rather than, ‘Okay I’m trying to be the starter, but I wonder if I can play this.’ … You can’t be successful at this level unless you’re strong, you’re physical, but you’re mentally strong also.”
Were Mike Martin and Ryan Van Bergen at this level last year around this time?
“That’s the difference. Those three guys, Will Heininger, Mike, and Ryan -- they had played so much football through their career here that all of a sudden when they got the scheme, they said, ‘Okay, how can I play this scheme better?’ And not just by hitting the sled or by being physical. That’s where I keep talking about experience. It doesn’t have anything to do with whether you’re a senior a sophomore or a junior. It has to do with if you’ve been out there in the heat of the battle where now you can start looking at these other things.”
Can the younger players get close to that level in a year?
“Oh yeah. They have to. That’s what we, as coaches, we must make them do that. Otherwise you won’t see any improvement. You’re not going to get any stronger during the year, and you’re not going to get any faster during the year, and you’re not going to gain any weight during the year, so somewhere in there you have to gain. That’s where once you feel comfortable with what’s being called, now you can say, ‘Okay, yeah, I understand that call. I’m supposed to line up here.’ Now you can say, “Now what’s going to make me play better?’ As coaches, that’s our job. Our job is to get them mentally prepared as well as physically.”
Pipkins seemed to play more Saturday. Is he pushing anyone for playing time?
“I don’t know if he’s pushing him. He’s earning the right to be in there. I don’t ever want to use the word that he’s pushing somebody. Our deal on defense is you have a first starting unit and a second starting unit. That’s what you want to get to. And you want to get to whoever gets in the game is a starter and he needs to play at that level. That’s what we’re trying to bring the younger guys along, the first year guys who have never played, to be in that position.”
How much of the improved linebacker play is due to them being cleaner as a result of defensive line play?
“It’s both. I think the play up front has improved, but our linebackers have worked extremely hard on their footwork. I said that earlier. The footwork is everything. You can’t not be the fastest guy on the field and take a false step and expect to be there. You have to step perfectly. Again it goes back to what we talked about with everybody else. When I see this formation and I see this alignment and I see this down and distance, what am I thinking is happening. Now it did happen, I’m faster. Rather than just, ‘Okay this is this defense, I’m supposed to line up here.’ You have to be a fifth year guy with great ability to be able to do it that way. I think that as a whole defense, that’s what they’re trying to improve on.”
You’ve been pretty critical of Kenny Demens at times. What did you see from him over the last few games?
“I see him as being one of the guys on the defense that’s improved, and they have to. Kenny’s no different from anybody in our defense other than that’s he’s a senior that every time we look at the practice tape and every time we look at the game tape, we expect this guy to play at this level, and he’s worked very hard at it.”
Do you have to balance saying, “This was a good game” vs. “We need to get better”?
“No, we’ve done that. We’ll always do that. We’re brutally honest with our guys. When we see something that is good, we’re going to tell them, ‘That’s good!’ We never worry about our guys getting complacent, I’ll tell you that. That’ll never happen in our room. There’s that level. You either get to that level or you don’t get to that level. If you don’t get to that level we’re going to let you know that that’s not acceptable. But at the same time we’re going to hug them [and say], ‘That was a great play. That was unbelievable. That’s exactly what we’re trying to get you to do.’ They understand that. There’s a learning curve there, too. When you’re a young guy, he’s never been coached on every step like he is here. I mean, there’s young guys that probably call home and go, ‘Wow! I just made a great play and I got ripped!’ Yeah you got ripped because you didn’t play with technique. But then all of a sudden they figure it out. The older guys tell them, they say, ‘Hey, you’re going to be fine. Just keep doing what they’re saying and you’ll be fine.”
“He’s a tough guy to defend. He’s a competitor. He’s a guy that, if no one’s open, he’s going to take off running and he doesn’t look like he’s a 4.5 guy, but he always seems to get the yardage necessary to get a first down. He’s the kind of quarterback that as a defense, you better make sure you’re playing. He’s a tough, competitive football player.”